What’s cooking today: Pan-fried kabeljou in thyme butter

What’s cooking today: Pan-fried kabeljou in thyme butter
Tony Jackman’s pan fried farmed kabeljou. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Kob, or kabeljou, is a red-listed fish — when wild-caught. But there is now a green-listed alternative in farmed kob, thanks to an enterprising East London business.

A beautiful big sustainable kabeljou came to me from East London en route to Cape Town, compliments of Kingfish Enterprises — a marine fish farm in the East London Industrial Development Zone. There’d been delays, thanks to expected social unrest on that particular Monday, and some logistics involved, as with so many things when you live in a small town. But Cradock isn’t far off the route they normally use to send their produce to Cape Town to go into the larger branches of Woollies, some speciality food shops and certain restaurants. 

In the ice-packed box were a real big boy and a much smaller kob which had, on request, been filleted for me. That went on to the menu that very night.

Farmed kob and yellowtail: that’s new terrain. Kingfish Enterprises general manager Andre Bok studied marine biology and later ichthyology at Rhodes in the ‘90s and has worked in the marine aquaculture and large marine aquarium industry. He says his “life ambition has been to farm marine species like kob and yellowtail sustainably” and that it has taken “years and years of trial and error to get to this point, so we are very excited to be sharing this product with the public at long last”.

They point out that farmed fish has a higher fat content than wild-caught, so it stays firm and juicy during the cooking process. The whole, larger fish is well suited to the braai and that is coming up soon, so watch this space.

It’s now green-listed by the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi), whereas wild-caught kob is red-listed thanks to overfishing.

The firm’s marketing material tells us that “one of the key benefits of land-based marine fish farming is its environmental sustainability, and by using sustainable farming practices, the company is able to produce fish without the need for harmful chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics. Furthermore, organic waste from the fish is effectively removed through the use of living biological filters”.

I did not want to mess with the innate flavour of this beautiful fresh fish (and it was as fresh when it reached me as if it had been just caught). So I cooked it very simply with thyme butter which I had allowed to colour a little, a technique which is called “burnt” although it is a mere hint of browning that you want.

(Serves 2)


1 small fresh kob/kabeljou, filleted, skin on

3 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp canola oil

2 or 3 fresh thyme sprigs

Juice of ½ a lemon

Salt and black pepper to taste


Rinse the fish fillets and pat dry. Salt them lightly and leave them on a plate in the fridge for half an hour. This helps tighten up the flesh which is good for the frying process.

Melt the butter in a pan on a moderately high heat. You don’t want to burn the fat or the fish but you also don’t want the fish to “bleed” water, so a balanced heat is key. Let the butter begin to foam and then add the oil and thyme leaves.

When the butter starts to turn just a tinge towards brown, put the fish fillets in, shake the pan quickly, then leave them alone until the flesh is cooked halfway through. Give them 10 more seconds, then turn them carefully. Cook the other side for only 2 or 3 minutes.

Ideally, fried fish should be slightly underdone in the middle. More than this and you risk them becoming dry. What a waste of top-class fish that would be.

Season lightly with salt and pepper, squeeze lemon juice over and serve with Granny Betty’s air fryer chips. DM/TGIFood

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Takula Tapela says:

    Re: “…. put the fish fillets in, shake the pan quickly, then leave them alone …”- do you start with skin side down or up?

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